Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The CBC cuts are sinking in

Today’s the day the impact is starting to sink in from one of the biggest round of job losses in the media in this country. It’s the day people at the public broadcaster have been dreading since CBC president Hubert Lacroix announced the cut in March. Now we know there’s going to be a total of 350 frontline CBC and Radio-Canada positions eliminated outside Quebec (the people represented by my union) and another roughly equal number lost in Quebec.

Let’s keep in mind what the 350 represents: 100 of those are contract employees who’ve been “non-renewed” (one of the most bizarre of the CBC expressions). Many of them worked on Steven and Chris or the Living shows on TV. They’re also reporters, researchers, producers and administrative support staff on programs throughout the CBC. For the most part, there were no grand announcements about them because, by definition, contract employment allows for simple termination.

158 are permanent employees who will receive redundancy notices and they have rights, including bumping in certain cases. But that won’t ease the shock. Anyone who’s ever received a “redundancy notice” never forgets what it feels like.

Another 73 people are taking a voluntary retirement incentive (VRIP), and their positions are being abolished. Among that list are Newsworld’s Don Newman, John McGrath, the radio legislative reporter based in Toronto, and Steve Finkelman, the radio political reporter in Edmonton, and one of the six who will retire this summer in that city. There is producer Mark Bulgutch, a thirty-year veteran and dean of TV news specials at the CBC. There are long-time network cameramen Mark Parkman and Richard Furlong who’ve been everywhere and shot it all. Because of the nature of the VRIP approach, these 73 people are among the CBC’s most experienced, knowledgeable and recognizable employees.

And then there are the many, many people affected by this cut who are just starting careers at CBC. It is the loss of these people, and the work that they’ve been doing, that makes me anxious for the future of the public broadcaster. We know that half of the people creating radio programming in Sudbury are losing their jobs, for example. These are keen young journalists who should have had the opportunity to become the veterans of the future. We know there are people being cut from Radio 2 in locations big and small who do the type of work that doesn’t get done by any other radio station.

Overall, we are experiencing a huge loss of talent, energy and commitment from the CBC. It is a loss for the media industry as a whole. And in this climate, it’s possible it will be gone forever.

Please comment with your own sense of the impact of the cuts.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sandbox feud detracts from real issue: they’re killing local TV

There’s a cute little feud going on between media giants. In one corner, CTV, which last week launched a totally cynical “campaign” to save local news. Give me a break. They have a website, but I don’t even want to link to it here for fear you’ll visit and increase their click count.

In the opposite corner, Rogers, Bell, Telus and Cogeco, who today launched a complaint at the CRTC against CTV’s “one-sided and unbalanced coverage” of the subject of the feud … whether CTV can get access to cable and satellite subscriber fees.

In an annoying spot that CTV seems to run at least every half hour in prime time, the network blames its threat of killing local television on the fact that it doesn’t get money directly from cable and satellite subscribers. No, they don’t put it that way, exactly. Apparently there were also “reports” about the campaign on local newscasts. Tomorrow, they’re planning rallies at their local stations and trying to get people to pressure their MPs on the network’s behalf. Is this is advocacy journalism, 21st century style??

(Can you imagine the reaction if CBC did something like this?)

The cable guys are no angels, of course. They raise subscriber fees any time for any reason. Now they’re saying that if they have to raise fees to pay the conventional networks, it’ll hurt their business. Whatever.

Meanwhile, three CTV stations are still in limbo. CTV said it will close stations in Brandon, Windsor and Wingham on August 31.

Then Shaw (another cable guy) ran an ad in CTV’s own newspaper (the Globe and Mail) on May 1 – in the midst of CRTC licence hearings where the spat hit the headlines – saying it would buy the stations for $1 each. Curiously, we’ve heard no more from Shaw on this since then.

If CTV really wanted to “save local TV”, would it really hang these stations, these employees, these communities out to dry while they negotiate a better deal with Ottawa?